Do You Know: Chinook Salmon?

Drawing: Chinook Salmon in Marine Phase

Quick Facts:

  • Scientific name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha.
  • The chinook is the largest of the Pacific salmon species, the world record standing at 57.27 kilograms (126 pounds).
  • Chinook are also known as “spring” salmon because they return to some rivers earlier than other Pacific salmon species.
  • This species is known as piscivorous, meaning that they eat other fish.  

A favourite in the recreational fishery, the chinook salmon is known by many names: King, blackmouth, quinnat, and chub are all references to this powerful fish – with those over 14 kilograms (30 pounds) dubbed “Tyee”.

Chinook, which spawn in large rivers from California to Alaska are found in a relatively small number of streams in BC and the Yukon. Chinook production happens mainly in major river systems, the most important of which in BC is the Fraser River. Substantial numbers of chinook are also found in the Yukon River.

Chinook Migration Map

Chinook Migration Map

After hatching, chinook remain in fresh water for varying lengths of time depending on water temperature. In southern areas, some migrate after three months in fresh water while others may remain for up to a year. In northern areas, most chinook spend at least a year in fresh water. These fish are known to migrate vast distances and are found sparsely distributed throughout the Pacific Ocean. The age of chinook adults returning to spawn varies from two to seven years. Many river systems have more than one stock of chinook, some even having spring, fall and winter runs.

Drawing: Chinook Salmon in Spawning Phase

Because of their large size and presence in coastal waters, chinook are one of the favoured prey of killer whales, and recreational and commercial fishers. Chinook are typically fished in “hook and line” fisheries where they chase and bite lures or baited hooks being trolled through the water. Chinook are an unusual Pacific salmon species because the flesh of adults can range in colour from white through pink to deep red.

While still feeding in tidal waters, the chinook has a dark back, with a greenish blue sheen. As they approach fresh water to spawn, the body colour darkens and a reddish hue around the fins and belly develops. The teeth of adult spawning males become enlarged and the snout develops into a hook.

For further identifying information about chinook salmon, please see our Recreational Fishing Salmon Identification pages.

Material for this page taken from Underwater World: Pacific Salmon and The Incredible Salmonids (out-of-print), and additionally supplied by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Management Branch of DFO.